Why Writers Love Scrivener (and Why Editors Will, Too!)

by C.K. MacLeod

Updated March 11, 2017

Planning map


Scrivener has become wildly popular with writers—plotters and pantsers alike—who are working on book-length writing projects. Little know fact: it’s a great tool for developmental editors, too.

Scrivener is useful for

  •  planning and writing a novel (especially if you’re a “pantser” and you need to do a little reverse planning)
  •  writing and organizing a thesis
  •  planning and writing an online course
  •  planning and writing curriculum
  •  setting and achieving writing targets
  •  writing and organizing blog posts
  •  planning a book marketing strategy
  •  publishing simple, text-only ebooks in mobi and epub formats
  •  developmental editing

Each of the items in the list above involves some planning or organizing. Scrivener is, in fact, the ultimate planning and organizing tool for anyone who works with words.

Scrivener helps you set goals, plan, and organize your writing with

  • virtual note cards
  • a built-in Binder feature that allows you to see each part of your book at a glance
  • symbols and coloured labels 
  • margin notes
  • Project Targets/ word count calculator
  • an Outliner, which can help you see the pacing of your writing
Scrivener Labels
Assign coloured labels to files in Scrivener

Scrivener is for Editors, too!

If you’re a developmental editor who works with writers to develop a writing project, Scrivener can help you (and your writers) to see a book’s structure visually:

Scrivener notecards
Scrivener notecards

And it can allow you to see alternating time structures, how a book is paced, and whether points-of-view are balanced:

Scrivener point-of-view labels

Scrivener isn’t the best tool for all kinds of editing (Word is still the best tool for copyediting), but it’s definitely worth considering at the developmental editing stage of the writing process.

Scrivener Supports

There’s great support for Scrivener, too. Scrivener comes with a 319-page user manual and a walk-through tutorial.

For those who like self-paced online courses, I highly recommend Joseph Michael’s Learn Scrivener Fast video course.

I’ve created a free downloadable Scrivener Cheatsheet for some of the more common “moves” that writers want to make in Scrivener when they first begin using it.

Scrivener has a free trial for 30 uses, and it’s less expensive than traditional word processing software. See the Literature & Latte site for details.

It’s fun to think about how tools can make some aspects of writing and editing easier—especially planning and organizing.

Image by Sacha Chua

8 thoughts on “Why Writers Love Scrivener (and Why Editors Will, Too!)”

  1. Corina, thank you for an interesting post (as usual)!

    I’ve often wondered about Scrivener as a tool for editors. But what’s always held me back from exploring it further is that it seems to be difficult to share projects via email. It’s not just a case of attaching a file, is it? (I’ve never used Scrivener myself.)

    1. Thanks, Averill!
      You can save a Scrivener project as a .docx file and then email that file as you would any attachment. In fact, you can save Scrivener projects as a number of file formats. It’s not difficult at all. Scrivener works best for the developmental editor. While it does have features like Track changes and Comments in Word, I still prefer Word for copyediting (I like to use macros and run copyediting tools, and you can’t do that in Scrivener).

      1. You’re quite right, PD. I think you can email a Scrivener project easily if it isn’t too large a file size, and if the recipient has Scrivener, the .scriv or .scrivx file can easily be opened. What I haven’t been able to determine is if a Scrivener file created on a Mac will open easily on a PC. So if you run into that difficulty, you can always save your Scrivener project as an .odt or .docx and use an open source or free program like LibreOffice or WPS Writer to open it.

  2. I’m interested in your Scrivener’s Cheatsheet, but I don’t want to sign up for LinkedIn. Any other way to get it?

    1. Ugh. That’s right. Slideshare has been bought by LinkedIn, hasn’t it? And they’re asking you to sign up for an account?

  3. You always come up with interesting and informative posts. This one is no exception. Editors should want to use Scrivener since I, as a writer, believe many writers are beginning to turn to Scrivener because of its organizational capabilities.

    Is the last image a project you’re working on? I’m wondering how the alternating colors blue and green make a difference in the organization of the project.

    1. Thanks for your kind comments, Sherrey. That last image is book-length work of fiction that’s written with alternating points in time. I applied colour to show the author which chapters were written in the past, present, and as letters from one character to another. You can see that the chapters alternate fairly evenly between past and present. The letters (in pink) are used for characterization. After I’d applied colour, I’d suggested that the author add two more letters to balance out the overall structure. As it turns out, this idea provided a solution to creating depth for characters who were in need of some fleshing out.

      I’ve used colour in other ways, too. When writing nonfiction, you can use colour to group topics or sections of a book, or to determine the status of a chapter (draft, revised, final).

      You’re really only limited by your imagination!

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